Germantown Friends junior Julia Mankoff (left) and senior Caroline Myran (right), struggle to pry a rebound away from Abington Friends sophomore Alexa Middleton. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

Germantown Friends junior Julia Mankoff (left) and senior Caroline Myran (right), struggle to pry a rebound away from Abington Friends sophomore Alexa Middleton. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

by Tom Utescher

After falling to defending champion Shipley School in its Friends Schools League girls basketball debut on December 13, Germantown Friends had won four straight FSL contests, including a stretch of three in a row during the first two weeks of January.

The Tigers’ joy ride came to an abrupt halt last Friday evening, though, as second-place Abington Friends stopped by on School House Lane and dealt the home team a 60-22 defeat. GFS slipped to 4-2 in the league and 5-7 overall, while the Kangaroos hopped home with a record of 4-1, 12-4.

The Tigers were very much in the hunt at the close of the first quarter, only trailing 15-9. After that they found it hard to keep possession of the basketball and even harder to score, managing just two points over the next two periods. With a 48-11 advantage at the three-quarter mark, Abington could coast through the final frame.

“We weren’t expecting Abington’s press to be as strong as it was,” remarked second-year GFS head coach Ashley Webster. “We expected them to press and we practiced against it, but when we got out there we couldn’t handle the ball and we had too many turnovers. After that, we just couldn’t put the ball in the basket, so not many things worked out in our favor.”

Caroline Myran, a senior forward who will attend Smith College, did all of her scoring in the first and last quarters to accumulate a team-high 13 points, and she was the only GFS player to post more than four points for the night.

Leading all scorers was Abington’s Alexa Middleton, a sophomore forward who registered 15 points while guard Asia Turner contributed 10. Right behind Turner, with nine points, was AFS point guard Bianca Adams, a senior who has committed to play at Chestnut Hill College. With eight points from Jade Young and six apiece from Isabel McPeak and Alyssa DeNota thrown in, the Kangaroos crafted a well-rounded offensive performance.

Back on January 7, GFS made its 2014 debut with an important 46-43 triumph over Friends Central, a team that’s a fixture in the FSL playoffs. Returning from medical leave for her first outing of the season, sophomore point guard Lizzie Becker rang up 15 points, including four from the free throw line in the closing minutes as FC tried to rally.

It was actually junior Schuyler Alig who logged the game-high of 16 points, striking repeatedly from three-point range. After that, league victories over Friends Select (55-40) and Moorestown Friends (43-25) were more easily achieved, so by the time the Tigers faced AFS last Friday, their last real test was 10 days behind them.

Addressing the primary offensive weapons GFS had deployed against Friends Central, Abington Friends was able to shut out both Alig and Becker. However, three field goals on strong inside moves by Myran helped the Tigers hang with the visitors in the first quarter. After her third basket, the Kangaroos came back with a three-pointer by DeNofa to spread the score to 15-6. With nine seconds left in the first period, GFS senior Rachel Allison stuck a trey of her own from the top of the key, pulling the Tigers back within six points and, the home crowd hoped, giving them some momentum going into the second quarter.

There were early signs of some defensive troubles, though. Before DeNofa hit her late “three,” McPeak had nailed a pair from the long-range loop, and in the second frame two more players – Young and Adams – would join the perimeter party.

In addition to bringing adept ball-handling to her future team at Chestnut Hill College, Adams showed that she could readily find teammates in the paint, earning several assists with passes down low to Middleton. Germantown’s most experienced inside defender, Myran, was called for two personal fouls in the opening stanza, and picked up her third three minutes into the second quarter.

“Coming in, our focus on defense was keeping their big girl from getting the ball inside and stopping their point guard from penetrating,” the Tigers’ Webster revealed. “But when their other guards started hitting all those three-point shots, that forced us out of our two-three zone. It kind of threw us off, and things got out of hand.”

After Abington opened the second period with a triple by Young, junior forward Julia Mankoff deposited a lay-up for the Tigers, but as things turned out, the hosts wouldn’t score again until the fourth quarter. When the ‘Roos’ defense was able to make Becker pick up her dribble and pass, and then deny her getting the ball back, GFS had a great deal of difficulty maintaining possession of the basketball.

“We obviously have to work on not panicking in the press break, and finding ways to improvise to move the ball up the floor when we run into trouble,” Webster said. “We also need to do a better job of taking advantage of our opponents, like when we had six team fouls on them in the first quarter, and then we didn’t capitalize on that.”

Abington’s deep bench helped it cope with individual foul troubles; there wasn’t much of a drop-off when the visitors needed to send in their reserves. If there was still any glimmer of hope left among Tigers fans when the score settled in at 33-11 for halftime, it vanished during a 15-0 third quarter.

Myran recovered to score seven points in the fourth period, which was when junior guard Imani Ross recorded all of her four points in the game.

Germantown’s Webster concluded, “We need to refocus now and really work hard in practice. We have some league games coming up with teams who aren’t as strong, so we need to come out and dominate them and not play down to their level. I’m trying to emphasize to the girls that the mistakes that you can get away with against weaker teams will come back to haunt you when you’re playing an Abington Friends or a Shipley.”